At Uttarakhand’s jüSTa Mukteshwar Retreat & Spa, nature and a wide range of therapies join forces to nourish your soul. By Bayar Jain
My trip to Mukteshwar in the state of Uttarakhand is a first in many ways: my first trip in 11 months; my first experience of sub-zero temperature; and my first daughter- mother holiday.
With luggage full of sweaters and jackets; and countless munchies, mum and I reach Uttarakhand’s jüSTa Mukteshwar Retreat & Spa after a bumpy eight-hour-long road journey. The property’s bright yellow interiors contoured with dense green surroundings set the tone for the weekend, and a face mask-clad team at the reception alleviates our pandemic fears.
Spread over two acres, this hilltop retreat is splattered with colours. Picture yellow cottages interspersed with multi-hued flowers set amid towering pines. A kafal tree, which bears the state fruit of the same name, steals the spotlight as it soars up to greet the clear blue sky. With a heated swimming pool, garden seating, brick pathways, and an upcoming open-air live bakery, the retreat is designed to put your mind at ease.
The 35 cottage-style accommodations are split into Valley View and Himalayan View rooms; we pick one of the latter. A stone staircase flanked by Buddha statues leads us to our abode, which lives up to its name. I open the drapes to be confronted by panoramic views of rolling hills leading to the imposing Himalayas—including the distinct peaks of Trishul, Panchachuli, and Nanda Devi—at the horizon. Inside the room, wooden flooring typical to mountain homes is paired with exquisite wall paintings and plush furnishings.
Art is integral to all jüSTa properties. The brand, I’m told, has collaborated with fashion designer Deepika Govind to set up an art collective and residency, Chitrashaala. The initiative aims to connect with artists across ages and geographies and spruce up all the properties. For my artist mother, Mukteshwar is already shaping up to be a muse.
Determined to elevate mum’s experience further, I book us a couple’s massage at the property’s Ekam Spa. However, zeroing down on the therapy proves to be tough. The spa menu offers face treatments, skin refinements, body envelopments, and curated spa packages. “Let’s get a 90-minute deep-tissue therapy,” chirps mum excitedly.
The couple’s room comes equipped with two beds, wooden flooring, and a heater to combat the winter chill. As we slip into our robes, we can’t resist gushing at the expansive valley view visible through a window. Most of the other rooms feature floor-to-ceiling glass on three sides.
As nature-inspired tunes fill the room, the therapy begins with a tug and pull of my joints, starting with my arms, legs, and back. The masseuse kneads my aching muscles, squeezing the journey-induced pain out of my body. Complying with my request, she pays extra attention to my back, pressing down harder as she travels up the spine. Oils soon follow. A soothing herbal aroma fills the room as I flip over and lie supine. As she gently slathers the concoction onto my skin, applying pressure with each stroke, I find myself slipping into zen. By the end of the session, my body feels light as a feather. Mum simply nods in silent agreement, basking in the tranquillity.
The following morning sings similar serene notes, courtesy of a scrumptious meal at SABOR, the property’s restaurant. Although dishes like spaghetti aglio e olio, tomato shorba, and ragi dosa compel us to shower compliments on the chef, it’s local dishes like mandua roti, aloo ke gutke, and bichhoo booti ka saag that steal our hearts. Knowing all the ingredients have been sourced locally only makes the meal taste better.
With renewed energy, we head out on a five-kilometre trek with our guides, Ramesh and Shokender. “This is an apricot tree… Look, fresh blood oranges!… This gahat plant is a great cure for kidney stones!” the two exclaim as mum and I carefully follow their footsteps through the pine forest. Every now and then, we stop in our tracks to marvel at a run-down temple, quench our thirst from a clear stream, and take a closer look at sap oozing out of trees. In the distance, bird calls echo. A blue whistling thrush sweeps over the river water to catch some grub. We take the cue and perch on a rock under a waterfall. Ramesh brews a cup of tea on a twig chulha. Sipping on the hot brew, I realise I’m living another first: forest bathing with both, Mother and Earth.
Mukteshwar lies at a distance of 341 km from Delhi; an 81/2-hour drive from the capital. You can also fly from Delhi to Pantnagar Airport, which is approximately three hours away from the resort.